The Life of John Coleridge Patteson
St. Barnabas College, Norfolk Island. 1867--1869.
A new phase of Coleridge Patteson's life was beginning with the year 1867, when he was
in full preparation for the last of his many changes of home, namely, that to Norfolk
Island, isolating him finally from those who had become almost as near kindred to him,
and devoting him even more exclusively to his one great work. No doubt the separation
from ordinary society was a relief, and the freedom from calls to irregular clerical duty at
Auckland was an immense gain; but the lack of the close intercourse with the inner circle
of his friends was often felt, and was enhanced by the lack of postal communication with
Norfolk Island, so that, instead of security of home tidings by every mail, letters and
parcels could only be transmitted by chance vessels touching at that inaccessible island,
where there was no harbour for even the 'Southern Cross' to lie.
But the welfare of the Mission, and the possible benefit to the Pitcairners, outweighed
everything. It is with some difficulty that the subject of this latter people is approached.
They have long been the romance of all interested in Missionary effort, and precious has
been the belief that so innocent and pious a community existed on the face of the earth.
And it is quite true that when they are viewed as the offspring of English mutineers and
heathen Tahitians, trained by a repentant old sailor, they are wonderful in many respects;
and their attractive manners and manifest piety are sure to strike their occasional visitors,
who have seldom stayed long enough to penetrate below the surface.
But it has been their great disadvantage never to have had a much higher standard of
religion, morals, civilisation, or industry set before them, than they had been able to
evolve for themselves; and it is a law of nature that what is not progressive must be
retrograde. The gentle Tahitian nature has entirely mastered the English turbulence, so
that there is genuine absence of violence, there is no dishonesty; and drunkenness was
then impossible; there is also a general habit of religious observance, but not including
self- restraint as a duty, while the reaction of all the enthusiastic admiration expressed for
this interesting people has gendered a self- complacency that makes them the harder to
deal with. Parental authority seems to be entirely wanting among them, the young people
grow up unrestrained; and the standard of morality and purity seems to be pretty much
what it is in a neglected English parish, but, as before said, without the drunkenness and
lawlessness, and with a universal custom of church-going, and a great desire not to
expose their fault to the eyes of strangers. The fertile soil, to people of so few wants, and
with no trade, prevents the necessity of exertion, and the dolce far niente prevails
universally. The Government buildings have fallen into entire ruin, and the breed of cattle
has been allowed to become worthless for want of care. The dwellings are uncleanly, and
the people so undisciplined that only their native gentleness would make their present
self-government possible; and it is a great problem how to deal with them.
The English party who were to take up their abode on Norfolk Island consisted of the
Bishop, the Rev. Mr. Palmer, who was there already, Mr. Atkin, and Mr. Brooke. The
Rev. R. Codrington was on his way from England with Mr. Bice, a young student from